Election Disputes, Stimulus Bill Await New Congress The Democratic-controlled 111th Congress convenes Tuesday, amid increased pressure to pass an economic stimulus package that supporters say could prevent the country from sliding deeper into recession.

Election Disputes, Stimulus Bill Await New Congress

The Democratic-controlled 111th Congress convened Tuesday amid disputes over two Senate seats and increased pressure to pass an economic stimulus package.

As new lawmakers were sworn in, Minnesota and Illinois Senate seats remained vacant because of continued disputes. The secretary of the Senate on Tuesday blocked former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris from taking the state's vacant Senate seat, saying Burris' credentials were not in order.

Senate leaders had said they would not seat Burris, who was appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant seat. Blagojevich has been charged with public corruption.

At a brief news conference, Burris said he was not certain how he would proceed.

"I am not seeking any kind of confrontation. I will now consult my attorney about what my next step will be," Burris said.

Also in dispute is a Senate seat from Minnesota. The state's canvassing board certified Monday that Democrat Al Franken beat GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by 225 votes, but a legal challenge is nearly certain.

Minnesota law prohibits final certification of a winner until a legal challenge is resolved, and Senate Republicans have indicated they would filibuster if necessary to block Franken from taking the oath of office.

Aside from the Senate battles, the president-elect's stimulus proposals await action. In meetings Monday, Obama urged congressional leaders to prepare legislation that would be ready for his signature soon after he is sworn in Jan. 20.

"We are in a very difficult spot," he said Monday. "The situation is getting worse."

Obama is supporting tax cuts of up to $300 billion; the overall package could increase government spending by as much as $800 billion.

Despite the size of the package, Obama promised Tuesday to make long-term efforts to rein in the ballooning federal budget deficit, even as he called for new government spending.

"The reason I raise this is that we're going to have to stop talking about budget reform — we're going to have to fully embrace it. It's an absolute necessity," Obama said.

Obama promised to make tough choices on future spending to address what he called the deficit of dollars and the deficit of trust.

He said the money in the economic stimulus package would be carefully monitored and would not include lawmakers' pet projects.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey echoed those sentiments Tuesday, saying he would not bring legislation to the House floor if it is filled with earmarks.

"There are going to be no earmarks in this package," Obey said in an interview with NPR. "I can't control what happens in any other body, but I can certainly refuse to bring a bill to the floor if it has earmarks, and that's what I will do."

Obama's plan includes tax cuts of up to $300 billion and is expected to cost about $775 billion over two years. The president-elect hopes the combination of tax cuts and new spending on infrastructure projects will help the recession from deepening.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell indicated there could be clashes over Obama's economic plan.

"We should encourage, not discourage, questions about this bill in a reckless rush to meet an arbitrary deadline," McConnell said in a prepared statement.

From NPR and wire reports